During its remarkable two-decade-plus career, Blue Highway has steered a steady course of melding vital originality with a sturdy devotion to tradition. The title of the band’s 11th album attests to this vision.
This time around, the band’s members raised the bar by challenging themselves to deliver new original material (all the songs save for one were written or co-written by BH’s five members) while hewing rigorously to a stark traditional setting. The musicianship throughout is first-rate—not that we’d expect anything less from this incredible ensemble, which features three strong lead singers.
The songs, nearly each and every one, are not only artful and soulful, but sound as if they were lifted directly from some mythical rural songbook of old. Quite a few, including singer/bass player Wayne Taylor’s “The Story Of My Life,” “Don’t Weep For Me” (co-written by vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Shawn Lane) and the sardonic “Wilkes County Clay” (co-written by singer/guitarist Tim Stafford) echo with eerie antediluvian fatalism and tragedy. On the gentler and more bucolic side are Taylor’s allegorical “Water From The Stone,” Lane’s vividly nostalgic “A Long Row To Hoe,” and the spiritual celebration “Top Of The Ridge,” co-written by Lane and Gerald Ellenburg. Perhaps the most stirring track of all is the lone non-original track. On the oft-recorded gospel ode “Hallelujah,” we get a delightful a cappella sampling of Blue Highway’s remarkable harmony prowess. (Rounder Records/Concord Music Group Inc., 100 N. Crescent Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210, www.rounder.com.)BA